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Publisher's Summary

There’s an apocryphal story that Alexander the Great once captured a notorious pirate named Diomedes. The great conqueror decided to interview the doomed pirate, asking him what he thought gave him the right to seize the property of other people. The pirate responded by asking the emperor what he thought gave him the right to take property that doesn’t belong to him, including entire countries. The story goes that Alexander thought the pirate very clever, granting him freedom instead of execution. 

Other than scale, what is the difference between a pirate and the vast armies of an emperor? Or between a pirate and the great navy of a queen? Were the men who famously traversed the Atlantic actually the heroic explorers we imagined them to be - or were they...pirates? During the early years of what would be known as the Age of Sail, these explorers included Sirs Francis Drake, John Hawkins, and Walter Ralegh.

In The Real History of Pirates, you’ll find yourself looking at world history from a new point of view, realizing that much of what you’ve learned before could - and possibly should - be viewed through a more appropriate post-imperialistic filter. Your course professor, Manushag N. Powell, an award-winning Professor of English at Purdue University, will expose you to new ways of thinking about global interactions from the West Indies to the Red Sea, from the North Atlantic to Indonesia. You’ll learn what causes piracy, why it still flourishes today, why some pirates even had the backing of a well-established government, and why women sometimes wielded the real power behind the scenes in an enterprise conducted almost exclusively by men.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying PDF will be available in your Audible Library along with the audio.

©2021 The Great Courses (P)2021 The Teaching Company, LLC

Featured Article: Go on a Swashbuckling Adventure with These Pirate Audiobooks and Podcasts


From classic sagas of buccaneers commanding the seas to fantasy novels featuring high-tech spacefarers, there's something about pirates that gets our hearts pumping and imaginations soaring! If you love a good adventure story, then you'll want to be sure to check out this list of the best audiobooks and podcasts with pirates, featuring both fiction and nonfiction. Whether you're a seadog or scallywag, a kid or grown up, find your next great pirate listen here.

What listeners say about The Real History of Pirates

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Not an intro, but some interesting perspective

More of a collection of interesting facts than a cohesive history. Presenting a clear timeline would have been a good starting point, however this course is organized into various pirate related subjects, which may leave a person new to pirate history a bit lost.

That being said, if you have an understanding of the main pirate eras and historical figures, this course will answer a lot of questions you may have. It does a great job of breaking down fact vs fiction, and helps cleanse your mind of the romanticism often embraced by us pirate enthusiasts.


If you just want an overview of the Golden Age of Piracy, listen to The Republic of Pirates by Colin Woodard.

If you wish to embark on a deep dive into pirate history, I recommend In Search of a Kingdom by Bergreen (Francis Drake), Empire of the Blue Water by Talty (Captain Morgan), The Republic of Pirates by Woodard (Golden Age, Blackbeard included), and this course, The Real History of Pirates by Powell (general discussion), in that order.

38 people found this helpful

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Not a lot of information about actual pirates.

was more about the perseption of pirates. even when talking about the topics there wasn't any actual depth of information given.

8 people found this helpful

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The Real Deal on Pirates

Lectures address all the major historical and literary pirates. Real or imagined.

The truth is somewhat drier than fiction and more brutal. Author concludes that classic piracy was also indissolubly bound to the trade in chattel slaves. And that the trade in fact required semi legal naval freebooters. Also noting that as dire as the pirates life was (typically less than three years) it was still better than slavery for non-whites.

Such unexpected details as the fact that “walking the plank” wasn’t a thing, to the sectarian religious outlines of Catholic vs Protestant divisions are clarifying.

The lecturers’ manner is dry and slightly ironic at times. The pacing is sprightly and she’s a good story teller.

For some reason she repeatedly stresses that the scope of her survey encompasses only the “Anglophone” literature and data. Though she does not overlook the larger world history of piracy which persists to this day.

So this is a worthy adjunct to your pirate entertainment but may be too much of a spoiler for some. the real deal was pretty squalid, not romantic or remunerative, unless you were Sir Francis Drake and backed surreptitiously by the English crown, and a pretty wicked business. Yet the early practice of international geopolitical naval warfare required it.

8 people found this helpful

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Interesting but Limited

This is a fascinating Great Courses text which explores primarily the Golden Age of Pirates in the sixteenth and seventeenth century in the Caribbean. It’s extensive, looking at myth, legend, and the reality as we currently understand it. From there it turns to eastern hemisphere pirates and shows how, like in the west, piracy depends tremendously on the political events happening on the land around it. Finally, and in some ways the most interesting, it offers a far too brief look at piracy today.

I enjoyed the book, but came away far from wholly satisfied. When a book called The Real History of Pirates has a blurb discussing Alexander the Great and his encounter with a pirate, I think it’s reasonable to expect the work to make a serious effort to discuss piracy throughout human history, not just in the last few centuries. While Powell does make the occasional reference to Vikings and historical acts of piracy, she doesn’t deal with these events in any serious way, which I think was a tremendous lost opportunity.

I also wonder why she would choose to include Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians, as a “Pirate Queen”. Yes, she was a powerful ruler in Anglo-Saxon England, but that doesn’t make her a pirate. If we’re going to go down that road, almost any ruler with a fleet would qualify as a “Pirate Monarch” because Powell was quite effective in pointing out that the label “pirate” is often dependent on perspective. Victims often see their antagonists as “pirates” even if the antagonists would not use that term to describe themselves.

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needs more history less feelings

I wanted to know the history of pirates not be told how to think about their actions.

the author spend a lot of the time telling you how to feel bout what the pirates did like the listener is a child, I wish she spent more time on the history and not her personal views on the history

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Good info, presentation needs work

interesting subject matter, but lecturer presents like reading an essay aloud. author is a literature professor, and the style is like dictating a magazine article. choice of words is anachronistic or awkward when spoken, but would probably make a good textbook. speaking style is kind of sing-song with a definite meter that you can get tired of.

that said, the historical research is interesting and seems well-researched. topics of daily life, economic concerns, and geo-politics are insightful.

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meh

jumble of info with no real timeline
really wasn't a fan. cool info but badly done

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Yarr matey

I found the course interesting,but professor Powell’s delivery is like she is trying to teach finger painting to 5 year olds

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Disappointed

It wasn't what I was expecting. Felt let down for it being my first Audible Course. The professor left out alot of information. Barely anything on Black Sam and the Whydah Gally. I did however enjoy the daily Pirate's interactions.

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Great Information, Speaker Talks Too Fast

I've always been interested in history, including the "Golden Age" of pirates. I've enjoyed several of the Great Courses series of lectures. My one complaint on this series is how fast the professor talks. She sounds young, so that might be why but reducing the speed to 85% was perfect.

1 person found this helpful

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  • jd72
  • 09-20-21

Not much depth

I gave up halfway. Perhaps it improved but, the history part seemed never to get going; almost every fact seemed to have to be equally balanced by interminable detail on the popular myths that we're supposed to have believed because of exposure to Robert Louis Stevenson or Disney. It felt like a lesson for teenagers- quite young ones, at that- not a university-level lecture as normally delivered by the 'Great Courses' series.

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  • Andy
  • 09-13-22

UTTERLY BRILLIANT

extraordinary breadth of research, told with flair by the author, and very nicely read too!

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  • DippersNest
  • 08-25-22

Well constructed with a dash of humour

the lectures set out a comprehensive theory of piracy while sticking to a timeline as a handrail. Themes like state sponsorship, indigence and economics after war, and local legal deviance come out well. I found much to agree with, and enough new to be interesting.

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  • Sebastian Jönsson
  • 07-27-22

Good General information but irritantantly woke

When I get a university course about pirates, I expect the talking points to be pirates.

Theres is that in this of course however its viewed through a modern day political lens which brings the along the quips and talking points.

Among such there is of course 'manly imperialism', repeating such things as 'slavery was bad' again and again and again. Like such a thing needs repetition.

and my final favorite in the late hours of the course, 'Like a man need a proper reason to hurt a woman'.

Ive enjoyed every great course up until now. Tip to all involved: Keep modern politics whete it belongs.

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  • Andrew UK
  • 01-27-22

very enjoyable

lots of interesting snippets, sailing across a broad range of topics.
Covering pirates across the world and across time.
.